HEAT is the buzzword at Abercrombie & Fitch, something clear in their Shorts and Skin campaign and also if you happen to step into any of their standalone stores, as we did in Hong Kong Central yesterday. It’s not a brand that catches my credit card (though how could it not catch anyone’s attention) however, with teenage boys in tow, it was an excursion impossible to avoid. And given my interest in fashion, the experience was quite an eye opener.
Imagine placing four good looking models at the doorway, shouting an irresistible welcome to anyone walking up the steps into the store. The store, swathed in the unmistakable fragrance of the Abercrombie cologne, a dark rendition of the Garden of Eden would put any conventional shopper off (you start squinting after a while) but it puts the right focus on the clothes and most of all, the style. A desirable concept, if not a very practical one. Three or four storeys of clothes, steps, large yet not bright chandeliers, that fragrance, hip music and you have the A&F formula.
To top it off, you step inside and anyone can get photographed standing next to a torso flaunter, A&F model. The polaroid is snapped and handed to you pronto. Free. Giving you a memento you take away. It may be a marketing gimmick but one that attracts hoards of young and image aspiring teenage girls and boys everyday.
Waiting for my kids to pay for their shirts, I chatted with one of the models at the doorway, 21 year old Emmit, who was half Irish and half Chinese. Turns out fitness, looks and a six pack was the sole criteria for hiring any of these guys (obviously, what else?) but Emmit was fun to talk to; a student making some extra cash during the summer break. “There’s no career in posing all day,” he smiled when I asked. Not if he decided to become a professional mode, I thought to myself. I guess that’s what he already is.
Interestingly Emmit said he wanted to visit Pakistan, because everything was made in either “China or Pakistan” these days. Not a good idea, I told him, because of the security, to which he replied, “Isn’t that Afghanistan and Iraq?” Must say his lack of current affairs knowledge was refreshing. To not have someone throw their hands up in horror at the sound of “Pakistan” has been cool as I have been witnessing a fair amount of Pakistan love in China.
Back to Abercrombie & Fitch, the reason why I’m writing this is to emphasize the importance of desirability in fashion. It has nothing to do with words like practical, utilitarian, conventional or needy. Fashion and style, for the young teens especially, is all about image, desirability, the hot and cool factor and so stores become about recreating these words in whichever way their brand identity allows. Our local garment manufacturers – the Crossroads and Gul Ahmeds, Cambridge and now especially Bonanza – must look, learn and reinvent the formulas. No one’s asking Oxford to place half dressed hunks outside their stores (though I’m sure Khawar could come up with even more) but some quotient of coolness has to come in for these brands to appeal to the younger lot. Coolness, if not hotness, must be adapted for local brands to become appealing.